Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

?uest for Love

Bravotv.com's Senior Editor deems the Jimmy Fallon episode the happiest one yet!

Hello my little Roots. Can we all agree that this was perhaps the happiest episode of Top Chef ever? And it's pretty much all thanks to Jimmy Fallon and his merry band of gentlemen. I can't wait to talk about the Elimination Challenge, but first, there's Quickfire business at hand.

This Quickfire was a throwback to the '70s, where y'know people did drugs, had orgies, and ate fondue! Or, at least the latter. I actually really enjoy fondue. Fondue dishes can be found on a lot of menus, like the choocolate fondue at Dos Caminos, but fondue restaurants aren't quite that common. Perhaps like me, I wasn't quite sure what made all these dishes fondue, as I've only ever had cheese and chocolate types, but according to Wikipedia: "Since the 1950s, the name "fondue" has been generalized to a variety of other dishes where a food is dipped into a hot liquid, including chocolate fondue, where pieces of fruit are dipped into a melted chocolate mixture, and fondue bourguignonne, where pieces of meat are cooked in hot oil." The chefs, therefore, offered a wide array of options, which they all got to sample because they were the judges! What a twist! Dale won in the end with his take on pho, and everyone else basically made their conspiracy theories about why they didn't win. Oh well. Unlike the chefs, my main disappointment was that we didn't get to hear Padma say "Don't worry, girls, I've got the fondue!" all Phyllis Nefler-like. If you didn't get that Troop Beverly HIlls reference, you should probably Netflix it immediately.

Moving on to the happiest Elimination Challenge, like, ever. I will admit that when Jimmy took over the Late Night time slot, I had my doubts, but, wow, was I wrong. His show is a breath of fresh air -- he not only has the Roots as his houseband for God's sake, but he's amazIng with his guests because he actually knows what he's talking about in the pop culture world. Now, I found out we'd be taping this episode day of. Since the show is taped in 30 Rock, also home to the Bravo East Coast offices, employees were allowed to attend. I have no idea where I was that day, but I wasn't in the office. I'm never out of the office! Saying I was bummed would be an understatement. I've only been to one taping of Top Chef, and that was on my birthday a couple years ago. I was amped at the thought of going to another one, but, alas, it wasn't meant to be. I take solace in the fact that this was a great episode to watch from my couch, though, and that the audience wasn't served any food, so I didn't miss that much! (I'm so sadistic.) The chefs, stupified, all came out to see that they're on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon! Jimmy has them play Cell Phone Shootout to decide what dish they'll be preparing for the host's birthday lunch. They all choose from a list of very traditional, mostly American cuisine, and get cookin'. How funny was Carla when she chose chicken pot pie? She lost it! Over chicken pot pie! I'm sure I've lost it over even stupider things (like my new Verizon iPhone), so I really can't criticize her for that. Nothing too crazy happens in the kitchen, but, man, would I have loved to have sat at that lunch table. Everyone was adorable and hilarious! I especially loved Jimmy's anecdotes about he and his wife watching the show, pausing it, and saying what they would've cooked (like we do in this blog!), and his mom giving him a recipe from Food & Wine to submit to Food & Wine! And Higgins! And A.D. Miles! Love them all. Only thing that could have made it better would have been if The Roots were there.

The dishes presented looked pretty good overall. I think the win could have gone either way. Everyone was impressed with Antonia's beef tongue. (Text beeftongue to 27286 to get a special ringtone FREE!)  I was kind of floored by how everyone was treating beef tongue like it's some exotic meat. I grew up on it, and honestly I guess I never realy realized what it was, but my mom would literally put the whole sliced tongue on the table. You can pretty much go to any "Kosher-style" deli, and get some. It's very flavorful.

It looked like the final decision was really between Angelo's apparently innovate flavor combinations and Carla's chicken pot pie. Our judging tends to go towards the simple dishes made perfectly, but I really thought maybe Angelo could've taken this. But then again, Jimmy was on a quest for love, and whose recipes always include a few heaping spoonfuls of the good stuff? Carla's! G-d, I can't even imagine how awesome Carla will be on Fallon. They're both such happy people, I honestly think the studio might implode from allt heir positive energy! Don't forget to tune in on Thursday to watch her segment!

That all being said, I really want to try Angelo's dish. Fortunately he just opened his new sandwich shop pretty close to my apartment, so maybe I can beg him to make it for me.Unfortunately, Fabio, Dale, and Tiffany didn't fare so well. I realy, really thought Tiffany was going to go because it seemed she just didn't make the right dish. Dale could've also just as easily gone home for overseasoned food. Although all the judges thought the whole dish was too salty, I still want to try it. I love Philly cheesesteaks and I love pretzel rolls. My best friend loves them so much in fact that she had them as her dinner rolls at her wedding, and they were delicious! (But salty.)

Ultimately, Fabio went home. As i write this, I'm dreading the fan reaction to this elimination. Talk about Fan Favorite! I can't think of a better example of how un-rigged this show is. (It's a word.) What producer in their right mind would get rid of Fabio?! Anyway, his booger (burger) was dry. Don't worry, Fabio, I used to call burgers boogers too (well, when i was in 1st grade.) I don't think Fabio's idea of using different meats was a bad one, and honestly who doesn't like meatloaf?! I wonder what would have happened had he not made that apparently horrific cheese sauce. I'm sure Fabio will be happy to return to his turtle... and the rest of his family. This episode really hit me with how close this competition is becoming, that anyone can really go home at any time. No one is safe. Not even Angry Dale.

So although I'm sure many of you are very upset over Fabio's elimination, hopefully the rest of the episode put a smile on your face. Tell me your favorite moments! And tell me where/what you've been eating. Until next week, Happy Noshing!

P.S. That blue mesh shirt of Angelo's is for real. One of my colleagues saw him on the streets of NYC wearing it, and texted me about it. When it came up on this week's episode, I called her into my office immediately to confirm it was the same one. It is!

Richard: "Gregory Had the Better Ideas"

Richard Blais explains why Mei Lin won, and why we'll definitely be hearing from Gregory Gourdet soon.

The finale of Top Chef is the one absolute every season. Make the best meal of your life, in a multi-course tasting format for a room of the "who's who" in the culinary industry.

If you get to the finals, it's the type of thing you can prepare for. Every finalist should have a few four to five course menus floating around their heads, including a dessert, and all complete with options and Plan B's transcribed to their moleskins. And although the knowledge of what's coming is helpful, the format does not play to every chef's strengths.

There aren't too many restaurants committed to such meal services. Which means less chefs experienced with how to "write" and execute them. A progressive meal has to have a certain flow about it. And even the stereotypical versions of the "menu degustation" could force a contestant into cooking a dish that's not in their wheelhouse, for instance a straight forward fish course because "it belongs there."

Tonight, Mei Lin has a slight advantage. She cooks in a restaurant every day that showcases a tasting menu. Her food has been the epitome of a modern tasting menu all season. Many previous times, to a fault. Mei's food is small and precise. Beautiful to look at, and intellectually stimulating to discuss. Cold sometimes, every once in a while a shaved radish plated with tweezers heavy. It's not for everyone. It's not for everyday. But it's the type of food that when done well, can win Top Chef. Win James Beard Award noms. Win Best New Chef honors. Win Michelin stars.

Her future could indeed be bright.

What struck me most about Mei's food tonight however, wasn't technique. Technique and presentation often can get in the way of flavor. But tonight Mei delivered a few courses that were deeply satisfying. Soulful, delicious food that also was presented at a high level and cooked with surgeon's precision. That congee though...combined with a simple dessert that took yogurt and granola to another planet, won her the day. Her other two courses were fine, but suffered from the strains of modernity. Overly plated (the duck) and technically overwrought (the fried octopus).

Gregory on the other hand, it's just not his finest work. You can hear it in his voice as he's explaining his food. He's cooking improv, an ode to Mexico. The problem is, this isn't a jam session at a local cantina. This is a studio session where the chefs should be cooking practiced and refined pieces.

His octopus was a highlight and featured the unusual combination of passion fruit and avocado. It was an explosive start. The following two courses unraveled a bit, with the soup being good, but way too unrefined for the moment and technically problematic (the crispy shrimp heads), and the fish course bordering on dessert with the sugary carrot purée.

The mole was authentic and delicious, the rib cooked perfectly, but the dish felt a little incomplete. I believe Gregory had the better ideas, but just needed to think them through a bit more.

His sadness after the fact, I can attest, is profound. Tearful. Absolute emptiness. Close to the feeling of the sudden loss of a loved one. This may shock some of you, because it is indeed just a game. The mere thought of feeling that way over such silliness is well, silly. But not for us. This isn't the Super Bowl where an athlete loses and they can shake it off. Jump in their Bentley and start thinking about next season. There is no next season. There is no guaranteed pay day for the runner-up. The ten wins you had before don't matter. It just ends. Suddenly. And it's rather sad.

The good thing is, this is certainly, 100%, not the last time you will hear from Gregory. I waxed last week about Doug's professionalism, all of which is very true. But Gregory... Gregory is a special talent. His food (and I can say HIS type of food, because it's unique to him), is a study in refined, exotic comfort. What the man can do with a one-pot meal of braised anything, some chilies, sugar, vinegar, herbs, and spices is beyond impressive. Rarely do I taste food that makes me jealous as a cook. Rarely do I taste food that makes me start thinking about a new restaurant concept. The word inspiring in cooking competitions is sort of like the word "love," when it gets used too much, it loses it luster. Gregory's food however. I love it. It is inspiring.

Congrats to Mei and Gregory! Tom was right, I can't wait to one day say I saw you two way back when, in Mexico, in a little kitchen, before the bright lights, fancy kitchens, and big stages that lay ahead for both of you.

See you next season. I hope!

Richard Blais
@RichardBlais - Twitter and Instagram

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